Less Is Better

At my annual writer’s retreat in Madison, this year I took a class that was unusual for me: short fiction and memoir. At first, I thought those two don’t really go together. But the common denominator was short. The instructor handed out a large packet that contained many published pieces of short fiction, memoir and prose.

Each day we analyzed the six or eight pieces that had been assigned the night before. We could also give the instructor a short piece we’d written of under 500 words and he would critique and return it the next day.

At the end of the five days, I had four critiqued pieces and had become a better reader which leads to being a better writer. I learned that it is possible to tell a great story in fewer words than I’d ever thought possible. The instructor stressed that we not underestimate our readers. They will get it; we don’t have to explain every little thing.

Success of such an experience is when you come away different. And I did. I’ve applied lessons learned and give an example below with two versions of the same story.  You decide which one you like the best.

We Made Another One (484words)

When I moved into my apartment four years ago, residents were adjusting; the building had become intergenerational instead of fifty-five plus which was difficult for some who cited safety issues. To others is was no big deal. Angie and Vern took it in stride.

Angie and Vern were a colorful couple in their late eighties who I first got to know at the weekly dinner. Angie reserved a table for themselves and their selected friends; a printed card with the names of the deserving few appeared on the table well before noon the day of the dinner.

I wasn’t one of the chosen but that was okay since I had my own dinner companions. But I enjoyed watching from afar as they held court. They knew everyone and gave a warm hello to all as they entered the room but were clear that the empty chairs were taken and there was no bending the rules. Don’t get me wrong. They weren’t snobby or anything like that; they just liked things a certain way.

Actually, I admired Vern and Angie. They were very active, going out to lunch each day and shopping too. I’d most often see them as they were returning from their daily outing. And that’s how I became accustomed to their familiar greeting.

“Well, we made another one,” Vern would say in a jovial, sing-song fashion as they ambled down the hallway holding their plastic bags of groceries and left over. And then we’d laugh about the grim alternatives. Hardly a day would pass that we didn’t exchange this affable refrain.

But as time passed, changes were inevitable. Attendance at the weekly meal declined until the building administration canceled the dinner. Then, I heard Vern had a car accident and gave up driving. Our hallway encounters dwindled. Finally, Vern was hospitalized and died.

Angie grieved mightily as her own health declined. She was confined to a wheel chair for a while after a stroke until rehab got her back on her feet. She remained frail but managed pretty well with a walker.

It was sad to watch this vibrant woman fade. I lost track of Angie and often wondered  she was doing. Then one day I saw her at the mailboxes. She smiled and asked how I was. I wasn’t sure I should do it. What if this brings up sad memories or makes her feel bad. But I took the chance.

“Well, we made another one“ I said in my best Vern-like style.  Angie was silent only for a few seconds. Then I saw that old Angie spark as she repeated the refrain with a laugh and shake of the head.  Most things change but some things never do.

 

We Made Another One (260 words)

Angie and Vern were a colorful couple in their late eighties who I first got to know at the weekly dinner in my building.

I admired Vern and Angie. They were very active and I’d most often see them as they were returning from their daily outing: lunch and shopping. That’s how I became accustomed to their familiar greeting.

“Well, we made another one,” Vern would say in a jovial, sing-song fashion as they ambled down the hallway holding their plastic bags of groceries and left overs. And then we’d laugh about the grim alternatives. Hardly a day would pass that we didn’t exchange this affable refrain.

But as time passed, attendance at the weekly meal declined until the building administration canceled the dinner. Our hallway encounters dwindled. Then, I heard Vern had a car accident and gave up driving. Finally, Vern was hospitalized and died.

Angie grieved mightily and her own health declined. . It was sad to watch this vibrant woman fade. I lost track of Angie until one day I saw her at the mailboxes. She smiled and asked how I was. I wasn’t sure I should say it. What if this brings up sad memories or makes her feel bad. But I took the chance.

“Well, we made another one“  I said in my best Vern-like style.  Angie’s silence was only for a few seconds. Then for a short moment I saw that old Angie spark as she repeated the refrain with a laugh and shake of the head.  Most things change but some things never do.

 

 

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